Citizens cannot trust news organizations if those organizations collaborate with government. We know the government is not trustworthy. Its record of dishonesty, secrecy, and illegal behavior is long and well documented. Sycophantic journalists and editors, who ought to be independent, have become fellow travelers. I am not talking about individual journalists; I am talking about what we can infer from their product.
Large media organizations, the ones that have access to sources of information inside government, are no longer fit to extract or elucidate true information about government’s activities. This argument, of course, bears on the fitness of large media organizations to investigate the truth about what happened on 9/11, a complex task that requires complete independence for the investigators.
So many critics and skeptics have argued in good faith for a new investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Victims’ families and others say the 9/11 Commission report does not explain why the North Tower, the South Tower, or World Trade Center 7 fell. Therefore it does not explain why nearly three thousand people in the Twin Towers died. Gravity and structural weakness cannot make one hundred ten story skyscrapers do what we saw those two buildings do, no matter how many planes might hit them, or how many fires might burn. Gravity and structural weakness would also not destroy World Trade Center 7 in a free-fall, vertical collapse.
If we accept the Commission’s explanation for why these three buildings fell, we would not see what we see in the video evidence. We would see something that looks far different. Conversely, the evidence we have on film, not to mention many other kinds of evidence, contradicts the Commission’s conclusions about what happened that day.
If disagreements exist about what happened on 9/11, critics argue, we need a new investigation to account for all the evidence we have. Who would conduct a new investigation? Several spokesmen for the 9/11 truth movement argue that Congress, the press, or some combination of the two should launch a new inquiry. These two institutions may be somewhat more believable than the executive branch’s 9/11 Commission, but honestly, do you find them good candidates for the job? If the legislative branch or fourth estate were to undertake the project, why do we think we would have any more confidence in their conclusions than we have in the Commission’s?
Let’s take a closer look at Congress. Several advocates for a new investigation suggest that only Congress would command the resources required for a thorough inquiry. No private body would have enough money to hire the people required for the effort, nor would private investigators have access to the information they needed. Indeed Congress could throw ten, twenty million dollars at an investigation like this one. I’m doubtful whether current skeptics, were they to read the investigators’ report, would regard the money as well spent.
First, the Congress is not institutionally capable of an independent investigation now. It cannot accomplish routine tasks, like voting on a budget or on nominees for offices in the executive branch. It cannot accomplish tasks of any complexity at all, or tasks that require even a little cooperation between parties. Members of both parties don’t trust each other; neither do they trust the president or anyone else from the executive branch. You could say that you wouldn’t want a congressional committee to trust the executive branch in an investigation like this one, but the executive branch holds information that a congressional committee would need. We know from many precedents that the executive would never give that information up. The White House distrusts Congress even more than Congress distrusts the White House.
I think that the call for a new, independent investigation by Congress or the media dates from the Watergate days, and, twelve years later, from the Iran-Contra scandal. We remember both as cases of executive branch malfeasance, where investigations by congressional committees and the press served to reveal information that would not otherwise have come to light. That was another world. Forty years have passed since the Watergate business. During those four decades, power has shifted decisively in the direction of the executive branch. Congress and the press are demoralized. They are not independent power centers as they were in the 1970s. They would not be able to mount an investigation that anyone would recognize as independent.
That means independent researchers have to do the job: patiently, collaboratively, and without full access to relevant information. A model for this kind of research already exists. Independent researchers stayed with the Kennedy case to produce a far better picture of what happened on November 22, 1963 than we had when the Warren Commission published its report. They pieced together enough information to demonstrate that government’s initial report about Kennedy’s death was incomplete and incorrect.
The same process of discovery will occur with 9/11 research. It is already well underway. Independent researchers cannot rely on institutions that supposedly have more credibility than they do. Yes, independent researchers are branded conspiracy theorists, which actually means conspiracy nuts. So what? Investigators must rely on the persuasive power of actual evidence, not invite more dishonesty from a government investigative body that outlines its conclusions before it goes to work.
Why would we expect a new government investigation to reach conclusions substantially different from the first one? We shouldn’t. Would conclusions from a congressional investigation differ substantively from the executive branch’s conclusions? They might. You could not count on it, though. To succeed, independent researchers must emulate the success of researchers who revealed the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. Private researchers act independently in that they do not depend on goverment for resources, nor can they depend on information government holds secret. They can only assist each other, work patiently, and move incrementally toward the truth.
The insuperable drag on indpendent research, then, is that government can hide and destroy so much critical evidence. One possibility exists to reveal hidden information via processes and institutions that people recognize: bring the prisoners charged with 9/11 crimes to trial. Justice requires itm and the time is right. Guantanamo prisoners are engaged in a hunger strike to force the issue. Force feeding of prisoners of prisoners amounts to torture, and the government knows it. It shows its insecurity on this matter every time it defends force feeding as “a humane way to protect the safety of the detainee.” It wants the issue to go away, and it won’t.
Trials for prisoners captured after 9/11 have become entangled with issues of venue. If not a trial in New York City, then where? If not a trial before a military commission, then what court? These issues are important to lawyers, but bogus nevertheless. Certainly a government determined to bring enemies to justice would have found a way to resolve these questions by now, if it wanted to. The reason it has not done so concerns what would happen in a real trial: secrets would get out.
A real trial, wherever it is held, would observe rules of evidence and procedure that are incompatible with keeping secrets. The entire purpose of a trial is to ascertain the truth about whether a defendant is guilty or innocent of specific charges. You cannot conduct a trial with a guarantee that the truth will stay hidden. Yet the federal government, by its behavior after 9/11, showed that the truth is not something it actually cares to pursue. It wanted to pay off the victims’ families and be done with it. Everyone who received money from the 9/11 victims’ fund had to sign away the right to bring a case related to the crime to court. From September 12 onward, the government has acted to prevent any trials, whether suits brought in New York, or criminal prosecutions before military commissions in Guantanamo.
Nonetheless, with the hunger strikes and force feeding, the taint of Guantanamo and the president’s promise to close it, together with the unique pressure people can exert via social media, the time may be good for the 9/11 truth movement to change tactics. The call for a new, independent investigation begins to sound empty if everyone knows the chances of convening one are near zero. The chances for fair trials of 9/11 prisoners may not be much higher, but circumstances have gathered to make these proceedings a little more likely than they were a year ago.
People who want to know the truth about what happened on 9/11 — and that would include virtually everyone who does not already know it — ought to consider criminal proceedings a likely path to partial knowledge. Partial knowledge is inferior to full knowledge, but it is valuable nevertheless. Each advance is worth it. No matter how imperfect our understanding of the truth, even a small amount of true knowledge is superior to false belief. No matter how imperfect the trials of Guantanamo prisoners as a method to uncover the truth about 9/11, they would be worth it. Right now, they may be the only realistic possibility.